Saturday, February 19, 2011

Defense Agency FOIA Request:
5-Years to Release 2-Pages

At the end of 2005, the New York Times broke a story about the Bush administration engaging in domestic wiretapping and other forms of surveillance. The spying was carried out under a secret order signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, and one of the intelligence agencies involved was the Defense Intelligence Agency.

I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with DIA for their FOIA logs back in December 2005, and now, a bit more than five-years later, DIA has finally produced a reply consisting of two requests. DIA has not provided me with the FOIA logs I asked for and I seriously doubt only two requests were made over the 2001-2005 period covering my request.

The length of time it took to get this skimpy and incomplete reply is a prime example of how long it can take to get federal agency to comply in a timely manner to a FOIA request. There is no reason why it should take DIA five-years to locate and release other FOIA requests.

Conservative GOP Congressman Darrell Issa of California recently requested the FOIA logs from 180 federal agencies, and the New York Times reported on how this move made at least one journalistic group nervous:

It “just seems sort of creepy that one person in the government could track who is looking into what and what kinds of questions they are asking,” said David Cuillier, a University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. “It is an easy way to target people who he might think are up to no good.”

On the other hand, Nate Jones, one of the writers at the Unredacted blog maintained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, offered praise for Issa's massive request for the logs:

But from my point of view, I think it’s great that Congress is exercising its oversight to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act –an act which it passed in 1966 and strengthened by overriding President Ford’s 1974 veto– is effective. As President Obama stated, the Freedom of Information Act “is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.” ...

I welcome Congressman Issa’s investigation into FOIA and hope he can help lead a bipartisan effort to improve the FOIA system. 

If the folks at the National Security Archive, who surely know their FOIA business and who filed the two FOIA requests with DIA that were released to me, are supportive of Issa's attempt to get the logs and potentially improve FOIA responses for everyone who uses it, let's give him the benefit of the doubt.

As my five-year DIA FOIA request clearly shows, there's lots of room for improvement in prying loose public records. Here is the reply from DIA along with the two-pages released. Click on them to enlarge:

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